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May 27, 2005

Jeanne d'Arc:
Been in so long it looks like down to me

The Marines dropped all charges yesterday against one of their own who admits he shot and killed two unarmed Iraqis and propped a scornful cardboard sign nearby as a warning to others:

The killings occurred on April 15, 2004, near Mahmudiyah, as Lieutenant Pantano led a platoon to search a house suspected of being an insurgent lair. When the marines approached, two men left in a white sedan, according to testimony at the hearing, but were stopped on Lieutenant Pantano's order. No weapons were found on the men, who were handcuffed as a Navy corpsman checked their car for weapons. When he was told that weapons and other contraband were found inside the house, Lieutenant Pantano ordered the men unhandcuffed and then directed them to search their car themselves.

Lieutenant Pantano supervised while the corpsman, George Gobles, and a Marine sergeant, Daniel Coburn, stood facing away as sentries. Lieutenant Pantano said that the men made a threatening move toward him after repeatedly talking with each other in Arabic and that he fired, emptying his M-16 rifle's magazine. He reloaded and emptied the second one, a total of as many as 50 bullets.

He acknowledged placing a hand-scrawled cardboard sign reading "No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy" atop the car, against which the bodies lay. The sign and the number of rounds fired, according to lieutenant Pantano's statement, were meant to send a message to other Iraqis about what happens to those who join insurgents.

Reuters has a few more details about how and why the men were killed:

The Marines shot out the vehicle's tires, took the two men into custody and ordered them to rip out the seats and the interior of the vehicle during a search for booby traps and secret compartments, Gittens told Reuters in February.

One of the men turned suddenly toward Pantano "as if to attack," and the pair kept moving when Pantano ordered them to stop, Gittens said. Pantano feared the men may have been trying to detonate explosives remotely and shot them, he added.

The New York Times doesn't offer much explanation for dropping the charges, but AP is somewhat clearer:

Autopsies conducted on the Iraqis' exhumed bodies backed 2d Lieutenant Ilario Pantano's assertion that he shot them in self-defense after the men disobeyed his instructions and made a menacing move toward him, Marine officials said.


Earlier this month, a Marine hearing officer recommended the murder charges be dropped, saying that one witness's accusation that Pantano shot the men while they were kneeling with their backs to him was unsupported by other testimony or evidence.

Witnesses testified that the sergeant who was Pantano's main accuser was bitter about being removed by Pantano from a leadership role in the platoon.

According to the Los Angeles Times, an Arabic translator also said that the men were shot in the back while kneeling.

Let's assume, however, that the military is being perfectly straight with us and the autopsies revealed that that could not possibly be the case. That leaves us with this story:  The Marines took the men into custody, and checked that they had no weapons on them. Then they removed their handcuffs and ordered them to tear up their own car to check for booby traps. (I have to admit, I'm a little confused by that. If you think the car might explode, would you really want to be standing close enough to detect a " threatening move" from someone in the car?) When the men -- who he knew were unarmed -- turned, the lieutenant shot them. Then reloaded. Then shot them again. Then propped up a sign warning others.

Look on my works you weaklings, and despair.

Am I missing something, or is the fact that he didn't shoot them in the back of the head not much of a defense in that case?

People are talking about deliberately mishandling the Koran. Joe Conason has an especially good piece at Salon pointing out that  these instances of desecration are neither sensitivity failures, nor the nastiness of some bad soldiers, but an example of a specific aggressive interrogation technique -- Pride and Ego Down:

"Pride and Ego Down" refers to methods used to intimidate and break the will of recalcitrant prisoners during interrogation. In a highlycontroversial September 2003 memorandum authorizing the use of coercive interrogation techniques, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, then the commander of U.S. military forces in Iraq, specifically mentioned "Pride and Ego Down," which he described as "attacking or insulting the ego of a detainee, not beyond the limits that would apply to an EPW [enemy prisoner of war]." (The Sanchez memorandum also offers a pertinent note of caution: "Other nations that believe detainees are entitled to EPW protections may consider this technique inconsistent with the provisions of Geneva.")

Conason quotes a civilian DOD employee assigned to military intelligence (from the ACLU documents and depositions) who gave an example of how Pride and Ego Down was used in Iraq:

Again recounting that conversation, the civilian employee explained that they were discussing ideas about "how to get 'these detainees to talk.'" Evidently certain prisoners were believed to know "the source of the incoming mortars" fired by insurgents at Abu Ghraib, but wouldn't reveal anything.

"During the conversation I told [name redacted] about the Interrogation Rules of Engagement to ensure he knew of their existence ... I told him of a story of an interrogator using a Pride and Ego Down approach. The interrogator took a copy of a Koran and threw it on the floor and stepped on the Koran, which resulted in a detainee riot ... I never personally witnessed the above incidents but heard about them from other interrogation facility personnel."

The civilian employee goes on to talk about other methods, including the use of "barking dogs in the prison" and photographs of "what appear to be [military police] in intimidating positions with detainees." But the June 20 statement doesn't clarify the earlier reference to the Quran-desecration incident, nor does it plainly state that such methods violate U.S. and international law.

Against US and international law, yes. But not beyond what General Sanchez authorized.

But just a reminder, while we're obsessing over whether a Koran was flushed down the toilet or in the toilet (if I hear one more right-wing chortle about industrial grade toilets I'm going to scream): We are robbing people of their basic human dignity and killing them with impunity. And that's a lot more important that getting your toilet prepositions right.

Greg Saunders:
It Is A Tumor

Though I'm not as enthusiastic as Ezra, I've gotta say that Warren Beatty's speech the other day was very impressive. Not only are his ideas right on, but it's full of long-overdue jabs at Arnold Schwarzenegger :

I've never enjoyed being publicly negative about actors[1] in public office like Ronald Reagan, who I really liked, or Sonny Bono or George Murphy because I've always had a real soft spot for actors even if they are right wing.

And although I've never known Arnold very well I've always liked him.
. . .
But now that he's a politician, I say, why not rise to the higher levels of that calling, rather than denigrate your fellow politicians, calling them "stooges" and "girly men" and "losers." They give years of their lives to public service in the legislature of what is intended to be a representative form of government, where public policy on decisions affecting 38 million people's lives are adequately discussed — not a government by ballot initiatives financed by huge advertising monies that bypass a careful examination of a bill by the people's elected representatives.

Can't we accept that devotion to the building of the body politic is more complex and a little more sensitive than devotion to body-building?

Does that make me a "girly man"[2] ?
. . .
Of course he can joke that I want to defend the nurses because I'm closer to needing one, and the elderly because I'm nearer to being one, and the blind because I can't see past tax-and-spend liberalism. And then I can joke that he should defend the teachers because he has so much to learn, but finally it's not funny.

Government is not a joke, and despite what he's said, it's not a movie.

That's what ultimately drives me nuts about Arnold. His arrogance towards his fellow candidates for governor alongside his avoidance of every public forum in which he'd be pressed to articulate and defend his ideas[3] pretty much confirmed the notion that most bullies are really cowards on the inside. He's a political one-hit wonder who sailed into office on a string of cliches about "change" and "leadership" without saying a damn thing. He was a gimmicky candidate who's now being forced to realize that you can't quote movie lines to get yourself out of every problem.

Even if he was doing a good job as governor, I'd still resent the hell out of him. The way he ran his campaign was an insult to everyone who takes public service seriously. It was the ultimate example of style trumping substance and it makes me embarrassed for my adopted state. When he says "I'll be back" during a stump speech, he might as well be saying "Where's The Beef?", yet the people of California were dumb enough to fall for it. Here's hoping that Arnold's latest troubles are the result of people finally seeing through his "charm" and not part of the natural ebb and flow of politics.

As far as Warren Beatty is concerned, I'm not a big fan of famous people graduating into government service, but then again it's always the conservative celebrities who end up running for office[4]. That said, I do see the appeal in trying to, as Ezra put it, "even up the star power and refocus the election on ideology". Let's take Arnie's celebrity crap off the table and get back to business, shall we?

UPDATE : By the way, there's no better metaphor for Schwarzenegger's political career than this inane photo-op (via BoingBoing). In order to tout his ideas for funding transportation projects, he sent a crew to create a pothole so he could fill it up in front of the press. Hell, I thought Pete Wilson and Jeff Skilling were the only people who created fake problems that Arnold would pretend to fix.

1 : Not that Arnold was ever a decent actor. At least his peers like Stallone and Bruce Willis branch out every once in a while and do serious work. The only real difference between Arnold and someone like Jean Claude Van Damme is that Arnie had a much better agent.

2 : By the way, am I the only one who noticed that some of Arnold's "best" lines were lifted from the Hans & Franz SNL sketches? How lame do you have to be to steal from people who were making fun of you?

3 : Except for the "Super Bowl of Debates". Yawn.

4 : Schwarzenegger, Reagan, Sonny Bono, Fred Thompson, Clint Eastwood, Gopher from The Love Boat....the closest we have is Jerry Springer, but he was a politician before he got famous.


May 26, 2005

Jeanne d'Arc:
Straight flush

Following up on the post below, it is indeed maddening the way the Pentagon can get one thing after another wrong and still have its herd of Charlie Browns -- the original Charlie Brown may have been a loner, but conservative fall guys stumble in herds -- eager to accept the next lie. Most of us would be at least mildly embarrassed to be so regularly and publicly played for fools, but maybe at some point you begin to embrace your inner dupe. The press will always been glad to help.

It's especially disturbing to look at the way the Pentagon has already started to spin the fact that the Newsweek story on the flushing of the Koran turned out to be correct. The Red Cross confirmed general acts of acts of desecration, and now the latest ACLU document release shows that the FBI was informed not just of general acts of disrespect, but specifically about a Koran being flushed. Right now it looks like the only thing Newsweek got wrong is the claim that the story would be "in an upcoming report by the U.S. Southern Command in Miami." In other words, the story is true, but Newsweek erred in believing the military would own up to it. The football was there, until Lucy jerked it away.

Here's the disturbing spin: The Pentagon isn't simply denying the allegations and leaving it at that. It's doing an interesting, and revealing bit of explanation:

Di Rita, the chief spokesman for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, said that U.S. military officials at Guantanamo Bay had recently found a separate record of the same allegation by the same detainee, and he was re-interviewed on May 14. "He did not corroborate his own allegation," Di Rita said.

Asked why he felt certain that this detainee did not affirm his allegation out of fear of retaliation, Di Rita said, "It's a judgment call, and I trust the judgment of the commanders more than I trust the judgment of Al Qaeda."

That snarky response plays well in a media that, as I was talking about a few days ago, doesn't accept anything until it comes from an official source, and gives those sources far more deference than they have earned. What kind of monster, after all, takes the word of a terrorist over that of America's finest and bravest?

The problem is, Di Rita's spin to cover up the original lie contains a new lie. Let's set aside, for a moment, the fact that some of our commanders have a few credibility issues, and just focus on the last part of Di Rita's statement. Does he have any real reason to believe the prisoner who charged that the Koran was abused was a member of Al Qaeda? Many of the "terrorists" America has seized in recent years have turned out to be innocent bystanders and even victims of vendettas. Some, like Dilawar, the young man who was beaten to death at Bagram in Afghanistan, were imprisoned for crimes that may have been committed by the people who turned them in. Others -- Omar Deghayes and Khaled el-Masri, for instance -- were victims of mistaken identity.

But you've got to admit Who do you believe -- us or the terrorists? is a pretty effective framing device, even if it is built on a blatant lie.


May 25, 2005

Tom Tomorrow:
They're always wrong

You know who I mean: the ones who unthinkingly embrace every self-evidently propagandistic myth that comes along, be it about WMDs, Jessica Lynch, Pat Tillman or whatever else.

Here's one more they got wrong:

The American Civil Liberties Union released the memo and other FBI documents it obtained from the government under court order through the Freedom of Information Act.

"Personally, he has nothing against the United States. The guards in the detention facility do not treat him well. Their behavior is bad. About five months ago, the guards beat the detainees. They flushed a Koran in the toilet," the FBI agent wrote.

Of course, the Pentagon denies it, and that'll be the spin (if they even acknowledge the story at all). Because it doesn't matter how many times the Pentagon lies--they want to believe, and always will. They are Charlie Brown to the Pentagon's Lucy, but without the anguish. They lay on the field after the football has been snatched away and do not even notice that their clothing is lying in improbable heaps around them, do not realize that they have been played for fools once again.

Update: a reader points out that Charlie Brown loses his clothes when he is pitching, not when he is trying to kick the football. Never let it be said that this blog does not strive for accuracy at all times.

Tom Tomorrow:
Keeping my head above water

This cartoon, which ran in the American Prospect in December of 2001, riffs on a Hannity & Colmes-style show called "The Shouting Zone."

Well, once again, reality outpaces satire:

Note also the fourth panel in that cartoon, in which--crazy, over the top satirist that I am--I have the conservative suggesting that the evildoers should be "tortured until they spill their guts." This was, of course, well before the Abu Ghraib revelations, back when the very notion that anyone would condone the torture of detainees still seemed like--well--outrageous satire.

That's how far we've come, and how quickly.

Tom Tomorrow:
Reality check

From Editor and Publisher:

Where, in the week after the Great Newsweek Error, is the comparable outrage in the press, in the blogosphere, and at the White House over the military's outright lying in the coverup of the death of former NFL star Pat Tillman? Where are the calls for apologies to the public and the firing of those responsible? Who is demanding that the Pentagon's word should never be trusted unless backed up by numerous named and credible sources?

Where is a Scott McClellan lecture on ethics and credibility?

The Tillman scandal is back in the news thanks not to the military coming clean but because of a newspaper account. Ironically, the newspaper in question, The Washington Post -- which has taken the lead on this story since last December -- is corporate big brother to Newsweek.

The Post's Josh White reported this week that Tillman's parents are now ripping the Army, saying that the military's investigations into their son's 2004 "friendly fire" death in Afghanistan was a sham based on "lies" and that the Army cover-up made it harder for them to deal with their loss. They are speaking out now because they have finally had a chance to look at the full records of the military probe.

"Tillman's mother and father said in interviews that they believe the military and the government created a heroic tale about how their son died to foster a patriotic response across the country," White reported.

While military officials' lying to the parents have gained wide publicity in the past two days, hardly anyone has mentioned that they also lied to the public and to the press, which dutifully carried one report after another based on the Pentagon's spin. It had happened many times before, as in the Jessica Lynch incident.

Tillman was killed in a barrage of gunfire from his own men, mistaken for the enemy on a hillside near the Pakistan border. "Immediately," the Post reported, "the Army kept the soldiers on the ground quiet and told Tillman's family and the public that he was killed by enemy fire while storming a hill, barking orders to his fellow Rangers." Tillman posthumously received the Silver Star for his "actions."

The latest military investigation, exposed by the Post earlier this month, "showed that soldiers in Afghanistan knew almost immediately that they had killed Tillman by mistake in what they believed was a firefight with enemies on a tight canyon road. The investigation also revealed that soldiers later burned Tillman's uniform and body armor."

Jack Hitt:
Feel the heat

You have to wonder if McCain, Graham and the other members of the Gang of 7 really thought through their deal. They get into a room full of horse-trading Democrats who are willing to say, we’ll give you Owen for Myers, etc. And then what? They stepped out and thought that Rove was going to behave that way, too? You have to believe that McCain and Graham knew that wasn’t going to happen. You have to believe that they prepared in some way for a show of resoluteness in the face of the usual Rovian pressure. You have to believe they knew that the Club for Growth and James Dobson and many others would be riding into their states to call them disloyal and treacherous. But maybe not. Maybe they thought that Rove would suddenly turn into Pious Joe Lieberman and just sing Amen after some friendly bargaining. This morning, Graham was already cracking open his escape hatch. "All bets are off if I believe they've done so in bad faith," he said—the “they” being Democrats who might filibuster a nominee Graham considers mainstream. Does he really think the pressure will come down on the Democrats? Rove knows where the weak links are. He’ll be gunning for Graham and do what he did to McCain in 2000 in Graham’s home state of South Carolina.

Let me give them some advice since I know McCain and Graham read “This Modern World” before they click on nominatearepublicanmoderatein2008.com. You have to decide now how you are going to manage your new position at the DMZ between two potent factions. As I mentioned before, there are two schools of exercising power from the middle. You can stand firmly astride the bridge and make it clear that nothing gets to the other side without your permission (see Jim Jeffords or Sandra Day O’Connor for details), or you can try to micromanage every situation, changing strategy from day to day, giving each side a little something (see George Voinovich, who will soon be able to boast: “I vote for John Bolton before I voted against him”). Bill Frist will soon be maneuvering you and the Gang of 7 to this very place where the roads diverge. I can’t wait to see which you choose. It will make all the difference.

Tom Tomorrow:
Our top story tonight

My friend Bruce Shapiro points out the lead story on NBC30 local news in Connecticut last night--beating out the Senate crisis, the stem cell bill, and the New London sub base closing:

Rats Seen Near Waterbury Fast-Food Restaurant.


May 24, 2005

Greg Saunders:
Filibuster Ranting

Conservative blogger Stephen Bainbridge[1] has a good post about "the deal" that pretty much sums up why I hate the filibuster :

The filibuster is a profoundly conservative tool. It slows change by allowing a resolute minority to delay - to stand athwart history shouting stop. It ensures that change is driven not "merely by temporary advantage or popularity" but by a substantial majority. Is it any wonder that it has usually been liberals who want to change or abolish the filibuster rule?
The filibuster is an anti-democratic tool that's been used to empower some of the most horrible elements of our society in blocking progressive reforms such as anti-lynching legislation, the civil rights act, and universal healthcare. It's a depressing irony that Democrats have been forced into a position of defending this tactic due to the even greater hypocrisy of the Republican majority in the Senate[2].

Then again, as far as I'm concerned, the filibuster isn't the only problem here. I've always hated the fact that the Senate is an anti-democratic institution that disproportionately favors the south :

If each of every state’s two senators is taken to represent half that state’s population, then the Senate’s fifty-five Republicans represent 131 million people, while its forty-four Democrats represent 161 million. Looked at another way, the present Senate is the product of three elections, those of 2000, 2002, and 2004. In those elections, the total vote for Democratic senatorial candidates, winning and losing, was 99.7 million; for Republicans it was 97.3 million. The forty-four-person Senate Democratic minority, therefore, represents a two-million-plus popular majority—a circumstance that, unless acres trump people, is at variance with common-sense notions of democracy. So Democrats, as democrats, need not feel too terribly guilty about engaging in a spot of filibustering from time to time.
What's even more frustrating is that this was all by design :
Writing to Thomas Jefferson, who had been out of the country during the Constitutional Convention, James Madison explained that the Constitution's framers considered the Senate to be the great "anchor" of the government. To the framers themselves, Madison explained that the Senate would be a "necessary fence" against the "fickleness and passion" that tended to influence the attitudes of the general public and members of the House of Representatives[3]. George Washington is said to have told Jefferson that the framers had created the Senate to "cool" House legislation just as a saucer was used to cool hot tea.
The notion that the Senate is the body in which cooler heads prevail strikes me as incredibly elitist. What is it about the makeup of the Senate that makes the body immune to the "fickleness and passion" of the House? The fact that states with small populations are given the power to overrule the will of the majority? This is just the sort of notion that I'd expect from a group of men who felt that the only people who could be trusted to pick their own representatives were wealthy, white males[4].

Going back to the filibuster, before you all decide to send me angry emails, lemme make one point clear. I think the Democrats are completely justified in their use of the filibuster. It may be a tactic I disagree with, but my discomfort with its use is outweighed by the fact that the the GOP majority are trying to sneak wingnuts into the judiciary while crippling the rules that allow Democrats to give "advice and consent". When the Republicans play this dirty, we'd be fools to not fight fire with fire.

1 : Who gets my respect for being a real conservative and not just another partisan hack.

2 : As Prof. Brainbridge put it :

[A]ny honest conservative must admit that the only reason we're having this debate over filibusters is because of Orin Hatch's changes to the Judiciary Committee rules and procedures on matters like blue slips, hearings, and so on, which deprived the Democrats of the tactics that the GOP used to bottle up a lot of Clinton nominees in committee.

3 : Which worked so well during the Terri Schiavo fiasco.

4 : No, I'm not bashing the founding fathers. I think their flaws should be kept in historical context, but I bring this up to make the point that our concept of how we define a democratic republic has evolved over the last 200 years or so.

Tom Tomorrow:
Here we go again

Via Atrios, it looks like we're in for another round of "Ted Koppel hates America."

Because god forbid anyone should be reminded that these were real people, with families and lives. Much better to honor them as abstractions, without getting so unpleasantly specific.

A song cycled through on iTunes a little while ago, a song that is familiar in the way that you can only understand once you've got a catalogue of songs that you've been listening to for more than a quarter century--yet in the context of the year 2005, it was suddenly jarring:

Shelter me from the powder and the finger
Cover me with the thought that pulled the trigger
Just think of me as one you'd never figured
Would fade away so young
With so much left undone
Remember me to my love,
I know I'll miss her.

Tom Tomorrow:
That was quick

Following up on Jack's post below, it appears that the power struggle is kicking into gear sooner than expected.

Also, as long as I've got the floor: thanks to Bob, Greg, Jack and Jeanne for pitching in--I feel like this site suddenly became much, much smarter. And, lucky for you, you'll probably be seeing more of them than me for a little while as I finish up some work on the next book.

Bob Harris:
We Must Still Confront The Baby Stewie Holy Death Zombies

I've been posting on and off here for years now, and I'm so glad to see Jack and Greg as part of this that I really don't want to hog space atop their thoughts, below.

So if you're curious about my take on the whole filibuster deal, it's over at my site, under We Must Still Confront The Baby Stewie Holy Death Zombies.

Otherwise, read on and enjoy...

Jack Hitt:
The Morning After

The test of this compromise will come soon enough—when the White House sends down its next batch of judicial nominees. More moderate choices? Or more Janice Rogers Browns and William Pryors? If you heard Lindsey Graham’s comments, you get a whiff of the unwritten part of the deal:

“Here’s what I know’s going to happen now. People at home are going to be very upset at me for a while. Judges are going to get a vote that wouldn’t a gotten a vote otherwise. We’re going to start talking about who would be a good judge and who wouldn’t. And the White House is going to get more involved and they are going to listen to us more. Some of them are going to make it on our up or down vote and some of them won’t. And that’s been the history of the U.S. Senate for 200 years.”

Lindsey says he expects more consultation from the White House regarding court nominees. So the moderate Republicans appear to have promised the Democrats that they will keep Cheney and Rove from nominating any more extremist judges and the Democrats agree that they won’t ever have to filibuster. Until the moderate Republicans fail, then you have your “extraordinary circumstances.” Of course this very round of judges includes many who were rejected by the previous session for being too radical. Cheney and Rove intentionally slapped the faces of the Democrats with these nominees. Are they capable of doing the same to the moderate Republicans?

That’s why the next list of judicial nominees will reveal all. Will Rove listen or smack the moderates with a basketful of filibuster-ready nominees. For today, at least, it was Lindsey Graham doing the face slapping. Frist looked miserable in his concession speech, repeating the phrase “up or down vote” so many times he sounded like an eight-grader on stage at a speech club contest, lost in his own uncoupling rhetoric. That’s today. You can only wonder how the White House is taking the news that John McCain’s most public Senate supporter in 2000, Lindsey Graham, is ordering Rove to shape up.

The other way to view this whole compromise is a struggle between two presidential strategies. Frist is playing to the radical right base—that’s clear. Graham may well be in the running, working a different angle. He has been speaking lately on broad national issues, was in Iowa last year, and has taken more centrist positions on touchy issues such as Abu Ghraib and social security. He may be trying to wage a Clintonian strategy from the right. Or, he may have consulted his polls (or his instincts) and realized that the first Republicans who pull back to the center will be the big winners in 2006 and 2008.

The test will come soon enough. Graham, McCain and the other five Republicans will have to decide whether they exercise their newly declared power in the waffling mode, like George Voinovich or seize the power of the middle like Jim Jeffords.

Fun added fact: The most cunning member of this moderate coalition was none other than Trent Lott. He was in the negotiations last week but managed to not be counted among the seven who stepped forward for the press conference. Maybe that was just to keep it all even—seven and seven. Anyway, Lott’s long been rumored to have his knives out for Frist since Rove engineered the Frist coup d’etat. A few days ago, Lott rudely told James Dobson to take a hike. (“Who does he think he is, questioning my conservative credentials?") The schism between the small-government right with the religious wing is now public. Few underestimate Lott’s ability to count votes and to whip, when necessary. Now that Cheney and Rove are lame ducks, Frist has only the senate as a base of power. If Graham’s chirpy Republican centrism and Lott’s Machiavellian tactics are united against Frist, the deal might hold. Then Frist might well be back in scrubs, cutting out other people's hearts (literally, this time) by next fall.

Greg Saunders:
Let's Make A Deal

I guess we can stop worrying about the filibuster battle now, which is fine by me. I'm not a big fan of the deal that the Dems made, but I'm not a big fan of relying on filibusters either. Kinda sad to think that this fight, in which both sides were making principled stands and unwilling to compromise, ended with a bipartisan display of political cowardice. In the end though, our side got the slightly better deal.

With or without the deal in place, it's definitely not in the President's best interest for the public to see how nutty his picks for the Federal bench are. Now that the public's interest has been piqued, I wonder if the Dems will be able to get some additional floor time to publicly debate the three certain-to-be-confirmed judges. The GOP's strongest hand during all of this was that the public really doesn't give a damn about what happens in the Senate, but I'm sure there's plenty of people who will tune in now just to see what all the fuss was about.


May 23, 2005

They're here

And they're huge.

Ordering info here.

Greg Saunders:
A Real Moral Crisis

Nothing makes me more depressed than to see how some prescription drugs are practically given away... (via Eschaton)

Scores of convicted rapists and other high-risk sex offenders in New York have been getting Viagra paid by Medicaid for the last five years, the state's comptroller said Sunday.

Audits by Comptroller Alan Hevesi's office showed that between January 2000 and March 2005, 198 sex offenders in New York received Medicaid-reimbursed Viagra after their convictions. Those included crimes against children as young as 2 years old, he said.

Hevesi asked Michael Leavitt, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in a letter Sunday to "take immediate action to ensure that sex offenders do not receive erectile dysfunction medication paid for by taxpayers."

...while others are nearly impossible to obtain.
Under assault in California and other states over the cost of prescription drugs, manufacturers are increasingly touting their donations of medicine to sick poor people. But some of the ill and their advocates say the free drugs are not as easy to obtain as the industry suggests.

They complain that manufacturers change application criteria without notice, require income documentation that many homeless and mentally ill patients cannot provide and establish other bureaucratic prerequisites that block many needy people from getting help.
. . .
Some companies require that a person be rejected for Medicaid programs -- a process that can take months -- before being eligible for free drugs. Dozens of firms require tax returns, paycheck stubs or other documentation that patients are too poor to afford the drugs. Many of the most desperate patients are homeless, mentally ill or work off the books and do not have financial records.

"I had a fellow who went around collecting cans, and at the end of the day, he cashed them in for a small sum," said Lynn Bramwell, patient assistance program coordinator for Yolo County. "He was homeless, and that's what he lived on. We tried to enroll him for some diabetic medicine. The company said, 'We need some sort of documentation for his income.' And I said, 'He collects cans.'"

Bramwell said the company refused to provide the medication, and he never heard from the homeless man again.

If it weren't for those Republican dickheads in 19941 and their cries of "socialized medicine" we might not be where we are now. Americans die of preventable causes every day because a bunch of selfish, elitist scumbags decided that they'd rather let poor people die than wait in a line. It's sickening and we all know who has blood on their hands.

1 : But as Tom mentioned last year, it's not like Clinton's approach was without its faults.


May 22, 2005

Greg Saunders:
The New Crusades

I know criticizing a column at WorldNetDaily is like shooting fish in a barrel, but this guy's asking for it. In "Welcome to my first column"1, the author argues that Christianity is going to take over the entire world and in the process wipe out secular humanism and "liberal Christianity, whose basic tenets are the opposite of the Bible"2. In order to prove his case, he resorts to hackish extrapolation like this :

In 1900, there were 2 million evangelical or charismatic Christians in Africa. By 2000, there were 200 million. In Latin America during that period, the born-again population zoomed from 1 million to 170 million. And in China, just since 1950, Christianity has exploded from fewer than a million to almost 120 million.
. . .
Now, straight-line projections are silly because nothing ever goes in a straight line. But just to give you a comically precise picture of our current momentum: At 8 percent growth a year, the world would have more Christians than people by the fall of 2032!
If you really think straight-line projections are "silly", why build an entire article around them?? Maybe he believes that by 2032, Christianity will be so popular, it'll start spreading to domesticated animals, inanimate objects, or reanimated corpses.
My research for my new book, "Megashift," has found 52 countries where God has brought people back from the dead, mostly in the last 20 years. And these are not near-death experiences, where someone on an operating-room table passes out and sees himself going down a long tunnel. These are stone-dead corpses.

Also, for what it's worth, I have zero interest in flying saucers, crop circles, the Bermuda Triangle, the anti-Christ, or the sexual preference of Spongebob Squarepants.

Whew! Glad we cleared that one up. For a minute there I thought he might be kinda crazy.

1 : Yeah, that's really the name of the column.

2 : Personally, I blame all those liberal women who insist on wearing pants.

Jeanne d'Arc:
Good Times, Bad Times

Ever since Kevin Drum wrote last week in praise of daily newspapers, particularly the New York Times, I've been thinking about what we have a right to expect from the press, and the papers have given me a lot to work with this week. The NYT has been at its best, and its most frustrating.

Kevin complains that leftists attack the papers as "craven apologists for the Bush administration," and thinks we should spend more time recognizing their value. They may not be perfect, and they certainly are not always on our side, but the major newspapers represent the closest thing we have in this country to honest, independent reporting on important subjects -- how much prime space has the New York Times devoted to the runaway bride or Michael Jackson in comparison to cable news? --  and the left, indeed the country, desperately needs a press that isn't distracted by news lite, or actively promoting right-wing crusades.

Kevin has a valid point. The most obvious support for that point lies in Tim Golden's Sunday follow-up to his disturbing piece last week detailing the torture and deaths of two Afghan prisoners in American custody. The latest article focuses on the Army's extreme failure to investigate an obvious crime. Senior officers didn't file mandatory reports when they learned that some prisoners were being "abused" (the word centrists substitute for the more accurate "tortured"). Investigators failed to interview crucial witnesses. Hand-written and computer records of prisoners' treatment disappeared. Agents of the  Army's Criminal Investigation Command and military lawyers at Bagram looked at a coroner's report that showed two deaths from "blunt force injuries" to the prisoners' legs, decided there was no "criminal intent," and moved to close the case. As late as February, the American commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Daniel K. McNeill, was telling reporters he had "no indication" that either prisoner had been injured in custody. That was two months after an autopsy had stated that both men had died from "blunt force trauma" to their legs.

The cover-up was well under way, until a New York Times reporter got nosy:

While the proposal to close the case was ultimately rejected by senior officials, documents show that the inquiry was at a virtual standstill when an article in The New York Times on March 4, 2003, reported that at least one of the prisoner's deaths had been ruled a homicide,
contradicting the military's earlier assertions that both had died of natural causes. Activity in the case quickly resumed.

Unfortunately, that old NYT article Golden refers to has been locked up behind a pay barrier, but it's worth digging up to read again. The NYT's Carlotta Gall went to talk to the family of Dilawar, the young man who the Army was still claiming died of a heart attack. And at his home she uncovered something stunning:

Found in this small village, Mr. Dilawar's elder brother, Shahpoor, produced the death certificate, saying he had kept the document in his pocket since it was handed over to his uncle by a United States military officer in Kabul along with his brother's body on Jan. 17. He said he did not fully understand what the paper said.

The certificate describes the circumstances of death: ''Decedent was found unresponsive in his cell while in custody.'' Under ''mode of death,'' there are four boxes listing ''natural, accident, suicide, homicide.'' The box for homicide is marked with a capital X.

The United States military confirmed the authenticity of the document, although it had not disclosed its existence before its discovery here in this eastern Afghan village.

At that time General McNeill told Gall that there was no reason to "take extraordinary action" in the case. But a little over a month later  Criminal Investigation Command's headquarters rejected the proposal to close the case, and in August turned it over to an outside task force, which found probable cause to charge 27 soldiers for crimes in the two deaths. However, it wasn't until March of this year that two reservists were actually charged with anything (four more were charged this week).

Some conservatives will tell you this is America at its finest -- the military is investigating itself. The truth is, until poked and prodded by reporters who didn't accept the stories handed them, the military was doing as little as it could get away with. And it will keep doing so unless the prodding continues.

So that's where I'm on Kevin's side. When I criticize the New York Times, I sometimes get mail from readers who wonder not why I'm being so harsh, but why I bother to read a Bush-friendly, Judith Miller-employing rag at all. I don't just read it, I subscribe to it (and I don't even live in or near New York). God help me, I pay a small sliver of Judith Miller's salary. But without the resources of the New York Times, and a courageous reporter, nobody goes to a small village in Afghanistan and uncovers a death certificate that proves that the commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan is not telling the truth.

You and I might suspect it, but Carlotta Gall can prove it.

So if Kevin wants praise for the New York Times, that's my contribution. But unfortunately, even in this fine reporting by Gall and Golden, there is much to criticize. And I don't think it's an insignificant criticism, although Kevin might.

Eli at Left I on the News noticed something about Golden's first article that sailed right past me. The New York Times printed a six thousand word article about a man pummeled to the point that the pathologist who examined his body said he looked as if he had been run over by a bus, and yet couldn't quite bring itself to use the word "torture" to describe what happened to him. "Harsh treatment" is when someone shoves you a little too hard. When they hang you from a ceiling for five days and beat your legs to a pulp, all, supposedly, in the cause of dragging information (which you don't have) out of you, the word is torture.

The only word.

Does it matter? In this one case, maybe not. The details Golden has pulled out of government documents are so horrendous that they are going to leave anyone who reads them shaken, almost with a physical sense of being slowly tortured. Making people feel in their bones what is happening in the American gulag is more important than using the appropriate word.

However it's impossible to imagine the New York Times reporting on such actions in another country without using the more accurate word. In fact, you don't have to imagine the Times' word choices, because Zeynep collected some samples last year at Under the Same Sun which make it very clear that in the collective mind of the New York Times, other people practice torture, we engage in misconduct.

If we just sink comfortably into that way of viewing the world -- America makes mistakes; other countries commit crimes -- it leads inexorably toward a sense that things will right themselves. It's just misbehavior. A little investigation here, a little bureaucratic tinkering there, a few soldiers behind bars, and all will be right with the world.

But I can't see how we can really change anything when even the people who see the problem most clearly think that it is too radical to call it by its name.


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